Tag: Cinco de Mayo

Not Quite Halloween

Back in the 1960s, the great essayist Joseph Mitchell wrote about his awe at seeing murals depicting “animated skeletons mimicking living human beings engaged in many kinds of human activities, mimicking them and mocking them… I was astonished by these pictures.”

He was describing, of course, the imagery of Día De Los Muertos. In Mitchell’s era, the Latin American holiday was exotic and largely unknown to US readers, and he was performing his writerly duty of passing along intriguing cultural information to his audience.

Today, we all are familiar with Día De Los Muertos — the white face paint on celebrants, the ubiquitous illustrations of grinning skulls, the small panoramas of skeleton musicians and dancers.


However, there is still great confusion in America about what this holiday actually signifies. Although it takes place at the same time of year as Halloween and shares the theme of ghostly visitors, there are fundamental differences.

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Loud and Proud…Or at Least Loud

Decades after James Brown first exhorted his brethren to say it loud (“I’m black and I’m proud), another group of oppressed Americans — gay people — adopted the idea and found resounding success in proclaiming their pride.


But African Americans, gays, and (presumably) gay African Americans are not the only people who are proud of their culture.

Latinos are well-known for bursting with pride for their heritage. However, while such expressions of ethnic boosterism are practically required on Puerto Rican Day, or during Hispanic Heritage Month, or — Lord help us — Cinco de Mayo, such statements often come across as just empty phrases.

After all, do we have good reason to be proud?

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One More Time

OK, I’ve been running this site for five years and have written hundreds of posts. And this is the first time I’m going to rerun one. It’s sort of a look back.


Why? Is it because the post is even more relevant than it was years ago when I first published it? Is it because the article is a shining example of my insight and wit? Or is it just because I’m lazy?

Well, it’s all those things, of course, but it’s primarily because the original post is about Cinco de Mayo, which is this weekend, and I figured the timing was good.

In any case, here is the original post.

Celebrate semi-responsibly.


Doesn’t Everybody Love LA?

I moved back to Los Angeles about six months ago. In the half year that I’ve been back, I’ve been most grateful to see old friends, to discover great places and events that sprung up in my absence, and to skip winter altogether.

But I’m also happy that my return to California has had a positive effect on this blog. In my previous hometown in the Midwest, Hispanics are still a fairly rare sight, so Latino-themed stories don’t pop up too often. But in LA, every other newsmaker has a name that ends in Z, or some debate gets going about clashing cultures, or there’s a new Hispanic-influenced restaurant, art form, or social movement taking hold.

For example, the Catholic Church recently named a new leader of the Los Angeles diocese, which has the largest concentration of Catholics in America. Archbishop Jose Gomez is now “in line to become the highest-ranking Latino in the American Catholic hierarchy and the first Latino cardinal in the U.S.”

His predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, said he was “grateful to God for this gift of a Hispanic archbishop” and said he personally asked the pope to supply him with a Latino replacement. Los Angeles has five million Catholics, over 70 percent of whom are Hispanic, so Gomez’s appointment couldn’t have been too much of a shocker. Even so, Mahony’s sentiments – thanking God for a Latino and pressing to replaced by a Hispanic – are somewhat rare occurrences in the United States, as I’m sure you can imagine. But it happens here in California.

By the way, Gomez was a member of Opus Dei, which according to several conspiracy theorists and best-selling authors, is really just a front for power-hungry zealots, albino assassins, and killer dwarves. If true, it could make the line for communion very interesting.

Another only-in-LA moment came when I saw the poster for an upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration. But this was not some bland, half-assed get-together with cheap tequila shooters, which you might find in other parts of the country. No, this party (called Cinco de Mayan), features “mucho sexo y violencia in the form of burlesque dancers, masked Mexican wrestlers, comedians, mariachi, Aztec dancers, and more.”

To be honest, I have no plans to attend this event. But just knowing that it exists here makes me smile.

Still, it’s not just traditionalist priests and masked wrestlers who get noticed in California. As the LA Times points out, Hispanic influence is part of an accelerating trend in this city, as “the power positions held by Latinos in the Los Angeles area are multiple and manifest. Besides the Mexico-born archbishop… there is the mayor. The speaker of the Assembly. The sheriff. A county supervisor. Several members of the City Council, of Congress, of the Legislature, of the Los Angeles school board…. All told, the taking of power has been stunning in its breadth.”

And that power can resonate beyond Latinos. This brings me to one more tidbit that made me happy to be in California. A UCLA professor, Don Nakanishi, is leading a movement to make East LA, which is 97% Latino, a separate city. I don’t agree with his position, but I have to respect his goals. I especially liked his comments about becoming politicized as a young man.

In college, Nakanishi “joined ten Latinos in forming a group called Los Hermanos, Spanish for ‘the brothers’.” He later formed an Asian American student group and said of the process, “We learned from the Chicanos.”

Yes, people learn from Latinos here.

The Number "Five" Appears in Some Context

Cinco de Mayo is here, and I have one simple question for the Anglos out there: What does this day signify? I mean, what historical event does it commemorate besides the advent of the two-for-one margarita special?

I do not mean this to be bitchy or accusatory. I may be playing a subtle game of racial gotcha, it’s true, but what’s wrong with that?

To be fair, I myself never heard of Cinco de Mayo until I was a teenager, which was perhaps a decade before mainstream America started celebrating diversity in sloppy, albeit sincere fashion. This eagerness to let other ethnic groups know that they are almost, very nearly American has lead to people wishing me a “Happy Independence Day” months before July 4. It’s sort of like those school holiday programs, where the Jewish kids get one verse of “The Dreidel Song” in the midst of nineteen Christmas carols.

Again, I appreciate the effort. But for starters, I am not Mexican (Cinco de Mayo is, strictly speaking, only relevant to Mexico). Second, May 5 is not Mexican Independence Day (that would be September 16). And lastly, one listen to my flat, Midwestern accent should let you know that any Latin American holiday has about as much significance to my life as Oktoberfest does to a sixth-generation descendent of German immigrants… actually, maybe even less, because Oktoberfest features beer, which is most tasty.

My chief memory of Cinco de Mayo, in fact, is from 1998, when a ditzy California blonde broadsided my brand-new car. I don’t know why I continue to associate the day with this event, but now it is stuck in my head… Damn.

In any case, Cinco de Mayo will not find me marking the day in any special manner, nor using it to justify guzzling egregious amounts of alcohol. It’s just another evening to me, thank you very much.

But I do not want to leave you without concrete information (news you can use, as it were) in this post, particularly if it will help you break the ice with that cute girl at the end of the bar. So here are some facts about the significance of Cinco de Mayo, which you can mention tonight in between ordering rounds of tequila for that special someone. You can thank me later. 

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